IOWA CITY, Iowa — With increasing national attention and the superb performance of one Caitlin Clark generating praise from the likes of Kevin Durant, the No. 25 Iowa Hawkeyes (16-6, 10-3 Big Ten) looked to add to that momentum as they took on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota at Carver Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes were expected to come away victorious given their early-season demolition of the Golden Gophers 105-49 but they came in hobbled. Starters Gabbie Marshall and McKenna Warnock were injured during their Jan. 31 loss to Ohio State; both did not play in their recent game against Michigan, even though Marshall still suited up so the team could dress eight players, as Iowa lost 98-90.
Marshall was in the starting lineup against Minnesota, as was senior guard Tomi Taiwo who has contributed greatly off the bench this season. Warnock didn’t suit up. Even with injuries and only eight players present, the Hawkeyes were determined to show that they were bruised but not broken.
From the start, Iowa came ready to play, and when the first timeout was called with 4:51 left in the first quarter, they were leading 15-7 with Clark scoring seven of those points.
The first quarter pretty much flew by as the Hawkeyes executed on both ends of the floor and Minnesota put up a good fight while being clearly overmatched. At the end of the first, Iowa led 27-21 and Clark had 12 points.
The start of the second quarter was largely scoreless with Iowa outsourcing Minnesota 5-2 through three and half minutes of game time. During that stretch, easy shots weren’t falling on either side and both sides started to show signs of fatigue after an up tempo first quarter. Still, the Hawkeyes took a 37-24 lead thanks to some bench scoring from Kylie Feuerback.
Meanwhile, Minnesota was largely struggling to get into a groove, but as the second quarter started to wind down, they made some headwaves. The Golden Gophers got a solid performance from junior guard Sara Scalia, who has been dubbed their Caitlin Clark equivalent. She had 12 points at halftime, pulling her team to within five at 42-37.
It was a closer contest than most thought it would be.
In the third quarter, the Hawkeyes got off to a shaky start. Fatigue started to show due to their limited roster, and the Minnesota defense sought to use that to its advantage. Iowa mostly had to rely on drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line to increase its lead. The advantage dwindled to one possession with 5:44 left when Deja Winters hit a three to bring the Golden Gophers within three at 47-44.
But you can never count out the Hawkeyes, especially with Caitlin Clark, who scored her 25th point with 2:02 left in the third to put her team up 62-56, giving the fans at Carver a reason to get up on their feet.
However, Minnesota’s Winters was also not to be counted out, as she scored five crucial points to bring the Golden Gophers within a point to end the third.
The fourth quarter began with Iowa needing to break the momentum on Minnesota’s side. And the Hawkeyes did that, reeling off a 7-0 run, forcing the road team to call time at the 8:06 mark. With 7:24 minute mark, Monika Czinano scored her 15th point to give the Hawkeyes their first double-digit lead since the first quarter, giving them a little bit of breathing room at 71-61.
The physicality of the game was starting to take a toll on the vulnerable Hawkeyes, but they didn’t relent as the game was coming to a close. It was almost the equivalent of a boxer who is on the ropes but fighting their way to victory with every will they have left. When the final buzzer went off, they evidently came out bruised but not broken as they won 88-78.
Clark had 32 points, Czinano had 23, Taiwo had 14, and Kate Martin had 10 for Iowa. Winters had a career-high 30 points for the Golden Gophers, and Scalia had 23.
Afterwards, Taiwo spoke of the importance of perseverance of the Hawkeyes during this trying time. “If we got five or six players we are still going to give it the best we got,” she said. “We know that when we have each other, we are fine.”
Clark echoed that sentiment and how it fits into the team dynamic.
“Resilience is something that Coach Bluder talks about every single day” she said. “We are not going to make excuses because that is not who we are and it’s not our culture.”
Iowa will next play No. 15 Maryland (18-6, 10-3 Big Ten) at home on Monday Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. CT. Minnesota (11-14, 4-9 Big Ten) will host Rutgers (7-17, 0-12) on Thursday Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. CST.